Don’t clear corner-cutting Norwegian Air for flying in and out of US

To secure a future for U.S. airlines and their workers, the U.S. government must make certain its international aviation policies do not allow “flag of convenience” business plans that hand foreign airlines an unfair economic advantage over U.S. airlines in competing for international business (“Open the skies to Norwegian Air,” April 9).

To hear Norwegian Air International (NAI) tell it, the growing number of skeptics of their sketchy business plan, including business and labor organizations, Republicans and Democrats, Americans and Europeans, all are trying to prevent job creation in the U.S. airline industry.

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If you think that’s a curious charge coming from an airline that appears to be deliberately avoiding its own country’s labor laws and airline workers to hire foreign pilots, then you aren’t alone. The growing ranks of NAI’s opponents include leading U.S. and European airlines, the union representing U.S. and Canadian airline pilots, the U.S. flight attendants’ union, and the European pilots’ organization. Meanwhile, 40 U.S. senators and more than 60 U.S. representatives, including members of both parties, have urged the Department of Transportation (DOT) to take a closer look at NAI.

Despite the fact that the operations of NAI’s parent company are centered in Norway, and that NAI has not indicated that it has any plans to fly to or from Ireland, it is seeking to operate as an Irish airline as part of its effort to avoid Norway’s employment laws.

Looking beyond NAI’s constantly changing colors—first Norwegian, then Irish—this chameleon carrier plans for its pilots to work under individual employment contracts that are governed by Singaporean law. This means that their wages and working conditions will be substantially inferior to those that NAI’s Norway-based pilots enjoy. NAI’s “flag of convenience” tactics should be a red flag for the U.S. Congress: after all, the U.S.-European Union Open Skies agreement is specifically designed to prevent the use of opportunities made available by that agreement to undermine labor standards. But, as the Open Skies agreement makes clear, this competition must be fair to U.S. airlines and their employees, not based on evading or avoiding worker protections at home and abroad.

For the U.S. airline industry, which supports some 500,000 jobs in communities across the country, approving NAI’s application would set the dangerous precedent that U.S. carriers and their employees have to compete against companies that pick and choose which countries’ laws will govern them.

When DOT explores these inescapable issues of fair competition, these questions will answer themselves. That is why NAI’s arguments are so desperate, and it’s why this corner-cutting carrier should not be cleared for landing in the U.S.

Moak is the president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l, representing nearly 50,000 pilots at 31 U.S. and Canadian airlines.